Favorite Track: Greed Least Favorite Track: Coma
With a brief look into music history, we see many examples of incredible multi-instrumentalists, ranging from Prince and Flea all the way to Sufjan Stevens and Jacob Collier. Despite the positive outcomes gained from this ability, which include versatility, greater musicianship, and better musical perspective, many have argued that being a multi-instrumentalist leaves you mediocre at a wide-range of instruments and limits your music-making capabilities to amateurism. Thankfully, we can count on one artist to debunk this claim. Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tash Sultana is frequently described as a “one-person band,” and quite frankly, that label isn’t given lightly. Without a doubt, Sultana is one of the greatest artists and producers on the scene today. Their instrumental abilities are out-of-this-world, being able to play guitar (main instrument), bass, drums/percussion, pianos/keyboards/synths, violin, vocals, beatboxing, trumpet, saxophone, flute, pan pipes, sitar, harmonica, and beat production. The 2016 Notion-EP introduced Sultana’s mastery of the looper pedal and layering, bringing elements of reggae, indie, and rock all together to create a psychedelic euphoria of groove, dance, and energy. The track “Big Smoke (Live)” is carried across two parts, and showcases their talent in building a groove from the ground up, slowly incorporating more layers of guitar, bass, vocals, and even beatboxing to create a funky and lively soundscape. Two years later, we finally were able to hear the “one-person band” debut Flow State, an album that explored a wide range of styles and demonstrated their prowess in producing spacey instrumentation, psychedelic guitar riffs, and an expansive and exciting listening experience. Many wondered what Tash Sultana would follow up with next, expecting much of the same experimentalism with sounds and styles. While that approach is kept to a fault, Tash Sultana’s sophomore album Terra Firma has a more direct and intimate way of presenting musical escapism and exploration.
While Flow State’s appeal was in its multi-instrumentalism, looping/producing, and exploration of the “one-person band,” Terra Firma’s appeal lies in its confident, heartfelt deliverance of comfort for the listener. The devastating year of 2020 has left people feeling uncertain, scared for the future, and searching for something to stabilize their soul. Luckily, Tash Sultana is courageous enough to tell it like it really is through vulnerable lyrics and instrumentals. From an instrumental standpoint, the opening track “Musk'' gives us a traditional and inviting layered Tash Sultana groove, sprinkled with guitars, synths, saxophone, and trumpet. After about two minutes and thirty seconds in, the instrumental takes a delicate turn, with the layers becoming slowly suppressed and dropped out, leaving this empty space for reflection set to reverbed/delayed synthesizer patches before the beat comes back in. Overall, it’s a comforting soundtrack, assuring that light will eventually triumph over dark. A track that presents lyrical intimacy is “Greed.” The chorus reads “They only give a shit when you make it big, Frame my memory when I’m dead and gone/Turn their back when you make a hit, But if you love it then you’ll hold it down,” showing Sultana’s interest in their own happiness over materialistic success. The idea of living free from money’s greedy grip is a theme touched on across the project, with the album’s closer “I Am Free'' specifically stating “You don’t need money to be happy, Now you can just be free.” Realizing that pure happiness is achieved by living free from the capitalist and societal pressure to earn money acted as a milestone for Sultana, and they were not going to live their life as a people-pleaser; a belief that sits at the climax of every unfettered and unrestrained track off of Terra Firma.
Just because Tash Sultana takes a more direct and intimate approach to Terra Firma does not mean they’ve lost their multi-instrumentalism and producing prowess in any way. We still get plenty of tracks that remind us of their incredible “one-person band” allure, and while we don’t get it from insane guitar solos or other equally impressive solo instrumental performances, we get it in a more grandiose, collective package. The track “Let The Light In'' utilizes a soft, strumming pattern on the guitar set to white noise ambience in the background, which is a perfect atmosphere for Sultana’s silky, smooth vocals. The chorus asks “Why don’t we let the light in?”, sung and harmonized by multiple layers of Sultana’s vocals, imitating a giant choir. It is equal parts beautiful, climatic, and impressive; a true testimony to their singing and arranging. The track “Willow Tree (feat. Jerome Farah)” has one of the coolest instrumentals on Terra Firma. It consists of a horn section, a smooth keyboard line, some spacey, delayed guitar licks, and an intense but groovy trap drum beat. This is where we as listeners are really astounded that they do it all by themselves. The grooviest track has to be “Pretty Lady,” which opens with an isolated guitar line that is later joined by powerful reverbed claps. When Sultana’s vocals come in, it pushes the track into this almost liquid, dream-like state. When the song is in full swing, with strings, extra layers of guitar, bass, drums, and other miscellaneous percussion added into the mix, we get that full state of psychedelic energy. The infectious rhythm gives you the sensation of dancing on air, as you defy the laws of gravity to become one with this musical aura of pure happiness and spirit. Basically every song showcases Tash Sultana’s astonishing multi-instrumentalism as well as their new take on musical intimacy and desire to orchestrate unbelievably dense and well-layered tracks.
This project also plays around with a wide array of styles and genres. While this is nothing new in Tash Sultana’s discography, Terra Firma is a meditative combination of soul, funk, R&B, hip-hop, rock, and indie pop. Take the first three tracks for example: the track “Musk” has this acid jazz ambience to it, which is followed by indie soul “Oooh’s” and “Aaah’s” in “Crop Circles,” and then dives into R&B/funk grooves on “Greed.” Progressions like this can sound inconsistent and strange to listeners who follow the constructs of genres to heart, feeling as though Sultana smooshed a bunch of random styles and ideas into a project and tried to pass it as a collective piece of art. One of the best examples showcasing this genre experimentation is on the track “Coma.” It has a relaxed, indie acoustic opening, where their vocals can really express themselves in the most open way possible. As it builds, they slowly incorporate more vocals, instruments, and ambiences to up the tracks eloquence and create an alternative soul vibration. As soon as the kick drum comes in, it upgrades to this alternative rock/pop groove, with a prodigious guitar solo to take us to the end.
If Terra Firma proves anything, it's that Tash Sultana is one the most gifted and talented artists of this era. Mixing their multi-instrumentalist skills with their producing and engineering expertise, and pairing that mix with the dedication to forge something artistically beautiful, it is no wonder Sultana’s music is so critically acclaimed across the world. You can feel the raw energy, blood, sweat, and tears that were poured into this creation. They bare their soul for the world to listen to, and as they state through themes across Terra Firma, they do not care about people-pleasing. Tash Sultana’s music is meant for one thing only: to feed the ever-aching soul, and at a time as severe and heartbreaking as we find ourselves in now, Terra Firma is that secret remedy to help us reach a state of pure euphoria and happiness.